Stitching Numbers - a hand-sewn photograph

Stitching Numbers - a hand-sewn photograph

"Having just finished doing a big and long commission, I was shocked to see the arrival of another. With the deadline set for 2 months, I thought that I best get started on the project. The scale of the piece was huge and there was a huge amount of stitching involved. The lines were so long and in various directions, it was hard to judge which technique [to use] on which line. For this work I had to draft in my 1.5 metre frame so that I could see the piece clearly.  

I switched up my normal routine to get as much of it done in the time I had. The most challenging parts of this piece was trying to distinguish the difference between the crossing lines and smudges. Having to do a lot of seed stitching, I thought when will it end? I have spent over 200 hours doing it.  

When you think of counting time, you may think of tallies on a prison wall. In a cell there are constant markings where people have chipped away at paint covering tallies and making them into something. The meanings of which have since been lost in time. I counted tallies for the amount of time it took me to do this piece. But do the tallies in this piece add up to the hours spent creating it and the faded tallies on the walls? 

The darkness of this piece is in my opinion what makes it. The black stitching makes parts of the piece stand out. It was a privilege to be able to work on this piece."

- Ben, Fine Cell Work stitcher

"When we first unrolled the printed fabric and looked at the piece, I think we were all fairly staggered. It was huge, and we were concerned that there might not be room in Ben’s cell for him to work on it. At first sight it was a jumble of different lines, but as we read the instructions and understood what was needed it began to make sense. Ben, of course, saw the possibilities, and the practicalities, quicker than anyone else. The first thing that he did was to create a frame that allowed him to work comfortably; this helped him manage but had a tendency to distort the lines. We had some very technical discussions about whether a particular line was horizontal, vertical or diagonal as they seemed to change in or out of his frame.

As he worked on it the fabric sprang to life, and the different stitches added depth and interest and the piece became increasingly exciting. Ben was concerned about how he would know whether he had done enough, and we were concerned that too much might break the effect required. It was a difficult decision to know when to stop.

The finished piece is remarkable, and I am so delighted that Ben was given the opportunity to work on such a prestigious project. Commissions mean a great deal to our stitchers and they take immense pride in each one, especially if they are working for an artist and know that their part in the work will be on show in a gallery or be sold for charity."

- Caroline Meyrick, Fine Cell Work volunteer

Read next: Idris Khan on Human Touch


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published